F.J. Fétis: Petite Pièce for two horns in E flat (1865)

I thought it interesting to include this short work for one natural and one valve horn by F.J. Fétis (1784–1871), director of the Royal Brussels Conservatoire between 1833 and 1871. The piece was intended as a sight-reading test for the horn exam of the horn class of Jean-Désirée Artôt (1803–1887) in the summer of 1865, and was written at exactly the same time as Brahms wrote his Horn Trio Opus 40. One can immediately hear a completely different approach towards the horn as a solo instrument than what can be heard in all other pieces presented on this disc.
It was common that the director of a conservatoire wrote dedicated pieces for all of the exams, which usually would be performed with a string quartet consisting of teachers of the school rather than, as later in the 20th century, with piano accompaniment,

Although it would be unfair to judge the musical value of Fétis work by comparing it to world-class compositions such as the Brahms Trio, the piece still strikingly marks the 'old' way of thinking about horn repertoire, that would completely be blown away by the Liègeois horn school in the years after. It is the last in the series of over fifteen contest pieces written by Fétis between 1843 (the year of Artôt's appointment in Brussels) and 1866 (Merck's appointment as horn teacher).

During the Artôt period, the horn class was divided into two sections: the class for
1° cor, performing on the natural horn, and the class for 2° cor, which, in reality, meant the valve horn. This Petite Pièce (a title given by the performers as the original was nameless) was written for both categories.The writing for the natural horn is melodic in the middle high register, the writing for the second horn is more meant as an accompaniment, more chromatic and virtuoso.

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Some notes on style & performance

The presented piano part is an arrangement of the string accompaniment. We chose to play the piece in a relatively slow tempo with a classical style, regarding Fétis's views on musical performance.

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About the Horn:

The principal horn part was played on a natural horn by Courtois, for the low horn part we used a two valve Ferdinand Van Cauwelaert horn. This horn model that was designed by Charles Sax of Brussels in the late 1830s was later reproduced by Van Cauwelaert and without major changes produced until WW I.

more on this horn
more on the Van Cauwelaert 2-valve horn
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Alphonse Stenebruggen